How can I deal with bullying at work?

It's amazing how many times I hear the words "bullying" and "victimisation" when I get in the middle of disputes at work. Very strong words indeed - incredibly strong accusations. Usually by the time we get involved there's been a formal grievance, an investigation, a hearing that concludes no substantial evidence, an appeal and yet another outcome of no substantial evidence. We're asked to help people rebuild trust and respect through mediation - which is fine, it's what we do.

A lack of evidence doesn't mean the person wasn't bullied - nor does it mean the opposite. It simply means that neither guilt or innocence can be proven, so the presiding officer can't reach a judgement. That's the difference in roles - when I chair a disciplinary or a grievance I'm a judge - when I lead a mediation I'm an impartial facilitator.


Very rarely are things 100% one-sided. There are always at least two sides to a story, and that's why (in my experience) it isn't about evidence and judgement, it's about listening and understanding. Whilst it's important that I listen and understand, it's absolutely critical that the parties involved do so. Not only should they understand things from the other person's perspective, they should know the impact they have and the consequences.


One of the many things I love about mediation is the confidentiality and the 'without prejudice' discussions we have throughout. Guilty or not, it's vital that people understand the consequences of their behaviours. But we're not there to prove or disprove the past - our role in workplace mediation is about the future and ensuring those relationships are at least professional and respectful. We have the opportunity to change inappropriate behaviour (whether perceived or otherwise) and help those involved to have a much better working relationship.


Once we've had the proper conversations we usually find that many situations aren't much different to the school playground. Usually it's not as physically obvious as stealing their dinner money - at least one of them wouldn't (or shouldn't) still have their job if that was the case.

Adults in the workplace do, however, talk behind each other's backs, gossip and isolate others. Such "bitchy" behaviour isn't restricted to the ladies in the office - men are just as bad in my experience. Whatever gender, the way they treat people isn't good - but is it bullying? Maybe - maybe not. The important thing is they listen to how they're making the other people feel and they understand it - and vice versa. 

We all know that disciplinary action is all about changing behaviours - mediation is just the same, but it's more effective - there's no punishment given and no points to prove. There is, however, a far better understanding of each other's behaviours, how that has made them feel, the consequences so far and the changes they will make in future.

The outcome of a successful mediation (of which over 90% are successful) is a documented outcome confirming the agreed change in how people will work together going forward. Here at Pragmatism we don't believe in sticking plasters - we will always test those outcomes for sustained improvements. This builds the new platform for respectfully working together - and whilst trust will take time to build behaviours will be much better understood - as will the consequences of acting in such a way. 

No two people situations are the same, and most people react well to proper, honest conversations. In my view these are a much better investment in time that "judgemental" grievances - try these proper conversations first and nine times out of ten you'll eliminate the issue and start to change the working environment and overall culture. 

Pete Colby

Director and Lead Mediator

You may also find these blogs useful:-

Formal grievances are a failure

Mediation webinar with employment lawyers

See formal grievances as failure


If you'd like to know more about the services we offer please don't hesitate to call or email us. Alternatively, complete the enquiry form opposite and we'll respond quickly.

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